The 300/60 club
Just 38 players have reached this exclusive driving plateau that combines distance and accuracy -- but the number is rapidly growing.
February 02, 2015
By Ryan Smithson and Bill Cooney , PGATOUR.COM
The bomb-and-gouge approach to golf hasn’t exactly gone the way of persimmon woods, balata balls and the mashie niblick. Muscle up on the tee and you’re still more susceptible to finding the rough than the bunters who nickel-and-dime their way down the fairway.
But slowly, bomb-and-gouge is giving way to a far more prudent approach: bomb-and-chip. Golf’s longest hitters are finding more and more fairways, replacing the gouge part of the equation with a better scoring opportunity from nicely manicured grass and an unobstructed view of the green.
In numbers terms, call it the 300/60 club -- players who average 300-plus yards off the tee while hitting 60 percent of their fairways in a season.
Prior to 2001, the club didn’t exist. But since then, 38 players have done it 55 times. The club includes three past FedExCup champs -- Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Bill Haas -- and 13 current or past major winners.
Like baseball’s 30-30 club (30 home runs, 30 stolen bases), which was science fiction in the 1940s only to become more commonplace in the 1980s, the PGA TOUR’s 300/60 club has recently grown into a sizeable group.
Last season, seven players achieved the feat, including Bubba Watson, who not only joined the club for the first time but was given his own behind-the-velvet-ropes VIP section. Watson, en route to winning twice, including the Masters, became the first player on the PGA TOUR to average 310-plus yards in driving distance and 60 percent accuracy.
Meanwhile, Keegan Bradley became the first TOUR member to produce four consecutive seasons of 300/60. When asked about his 300/60 string, it’s no surprise that Bradley sums up the objective of every club member.
“I want to hit the ball straight and long, as long as I can,” he said.
IN THE BEGINNING: In 2001, John Daly led the PGA TOUR by averaging 306.7 yards off the tee. No one was surprised that he ranked No. 1 in that category; after all, he had been the TOUR’s longest hitter for more than a decade, leading in driving distance – either officially or unofficially, depending on whether he met the required number of starts – since 1989.
But here’s what you probably don’t remember about Daly’s performance off the tee that year: He hit 60.68 percent of his fairways. In and of itself, that number is not remarkable, as it was more than 20 percentage points lower than the driving accuracy leader that season, Joe Durant. In fact, 187 players were more accurate off the tee in 2001.
Yet Daly had done something that no player in the history of the game had ever achieved -- he became the first member of the 300/60 club, the first player to statistically split the axis of power and accuracy, to prove that being long off the tee doesn’t mean being wild.
Thanks to the improvement in equipment, increased attention to fitness, and the vast array of tools and teaching methods to hone your game, it was inevitable that players are longer off the tee. Daly's 2001 season was actually a big leap for the TOUR as a whole, as the driving distance average skyrocketed more than six yards overall on TOUR from the previous year. Since then, the TOUR average has increased another 10 yards.
Interestingly enough, the TOUR as a whole is less accurate now than in 2001 -- significantly so. In 2001, the pros found the fairway 67.88 percent of the time; last season, that average was 61.33 percent.
In other words, as the pros have gotten longer off the tee since the turn of the century, they have also become less accurate. The outliers, if you go by the 300/60 club, seem to be the longest hitters, who have actually become more accurate.
2013-14 MEMBERS OF THE 300/60 CLUB
|Player||Accuracy rank||Accuracy||Driving rank||Distance|
Being long and accurate pays dividends in many ways. It allows club members to compete on a wider variety of courses. Tight layouts, once the bane of a bomber’s existence, may still negate some of their advantages but it doesn’t necessarily restrict their success.
Watson, for instance, won on two very different courses in 2014 – Augusta National and Riviera. In 2011, Bradley broke through with his first TOUR win on a 7,166-yard layout at the AT&T Byron Nelson, then later won his first major at the PGA Championship on a course that was 300 yards longer.
A year before Daly started the club, Tiger Woods was at the absolute peak of his game in 2000. He averaged 298 yards off the tee while hitting 71 percent of his fairways, which made him only two yards shy of becoming the first player to reach 300/60. Still, his 298-71 season meant he was a turbo-charged Fred Funk, or Durant with a rocket engine.
It’s no wonder Tiger won the U.S. Open by 15 shots that year. He was playing a different (easier) course.
Some naysayers may argue, correctly, that hitting the ball long and straight doesn’t do much good if a TOUR player isn’t able to get the ball in the hole. The TOUR is filled with players who are world-class tee-to-green but are always struggling to keep their cards.
But some simple research is showing that a player who is hitting it 300 yards and 60 percent off the tee isn’t struggling to keep a PGA TOUR card. An increase of only 5 percent in driving accuracy can mean huge gains over the course of a year.
One example: Last season, Jhonattan Vegas regained his card when he hit 300/60 for the first time in his career (304.8/61.1, to be exact) even though he was giving strokes back on the greens (-.369 strokes gained: putting).
SCIENCE BEHIND THE STATS: Being able to sustain his 300/60 club membership for four consecutive seasons is a big reason why Bradley already has a major title, one Presidents Cup and two Ryder Cup appearances under his belt.
It will be interesting to see if Bradley can do it for a fifth season (only he and Charles Warren have done it four times overall). Bradley is off to a good start, averaging 305.3 yards/63.25 percent through the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
"That's what I do best. That's what I do -- drive the ball well, and that is what gives me an advantage over guys,” Bradley said. “I take a lot of pride in that."
So just how difficult is it to hit a golf ball straight at such distance? Well, consider this: If you assume an average fairway width on the PGA TOUR is 30 yards, the club face would only have to be off roughly 2.8 degrees to miss the fairway, according to Dr. Paul Wood, the director of engineering at PING.
In simpler terms, think of a wall clock. Wood said three degrees would be equal to about one-tenth of the distance between 5-minute intervals on a clock, which means one-half of the distance between minute marks on a clock is about how far off a club face would have to be to miss the average fairway when hitting it 300 yards.
PROOF IS IN THE DRIVING: Drive for show and putt for dough, right? It might be the other way around.
Mark Broadie, a golf-addicted professor at Columbia University, has been saying this for years. His book, “Every Shot Counts,” has been one of the catalysts in the strokes-gained movement, and he says that the tee shot is vastly underrated.
By now, even casual golf fans know the basics of the strokes-gained movement — it measures key parts of the game from putting, approach shots and driving. For years, the PGA TOUR has sometimes been labeled as a weekly putting contest, but the stats don’t always support this.
Broadie said the recent success of Watson and Rory McIlroy helps bolster the argument that the 300/60 club is critical to success. While Watson is the only 310/60 member, it’s notable that McIlroy came within one fairway of joining him, hitting 537 of 896 for a 59.93 percentage. (McIlroy, by the way, joined the 300/60 club in 2010).
According to Broadie, of the top 10 earners on the PGA TOUR during the 2013-14 season, skill off the tee resulted in 35 percent of their success. Only 12 percent of the success was due to putting.
"It’s surprising to many how this reveals how important driving is,” Broadie said. “It's not necessarily the most important thing, but it’s really quite important. It’s more important overall from a full-season basis. Driving is more important overall than putting when looking at what the best players gain on the field. It’s not as important as approach shots, but approach shots are a bigger category."
Bubba hits 424-yard drive at 2014 Bridgestone
FUTURE TREND?: Certainly, gaining status in the 300/60 club is no guarantee for success.
Of the 55 times it has been done by its 38 members, the highest driving accuracy ranking is held by Mike Heinen, who hit nearly 70 percent of his fairways in 2003 to rank 43rd on TOUR that year. He also ranked eighth in distance. But he didn’t have a top 10 that year, due mostly to his performance on the greens (141st in total putting, the stat used prior to the introduction of strokes gained: putting.)
Even so, Heinen had his best finish on the money list that season.
Likewise, Warren ranked ninth in driving distance and 50th in accuracy in 2007 but was undone by his putting stroke, ranking 175th in strokes gained: putting. Yet he also had his best year statistically, posting his highest career finish, a tie for second at the Reno-Tahoe Open. His ability to be long and accurate at least gave him a fighting chance.
No doubt more bombers are getting more accurate. Recall that Daly ranked 188th in accuracy in 2001; none of the players who have joined him in that group have ever ranked that low in accuracy. Of the seven players who did last year, the worst ranking in accuracy was Watson, who was 102nd on TOUR. That’s about average.
So what do all these numbers, specifically the 300/60 club, mean?
It’s not a deep science, especially in the era of titanium drivers, $600 shafts and carefully coached swings. But the fusion of power and accuracy is becoming more and more common on TOUR. If the trend continues, a player averaging 320/70 might not be that far off in the future.
-- PGATOUR.COM staffer Sean Martin contributed to this report